Why Assad must stay...for now

Right now, this group and its nihilistic- jihadi outlook controls nearly 50% of the country, not to mention large segments of neighboring Iraq.

December 26, 2015 21:30
4 minute read.
Syria's President Bashar Assad attends prayers on the first day of Eid al-Adha in Damascus

Syria's President Bashar Assad attends prayers on the first day of Eid al-Adha at al-Adel mosque in Damascus. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Syria’s spiraling civil war has been raging for nearly five years. More than a quarter of a million people have lost their lives while half the country’s pre-war population, 11 million people, have been forced from their homes.

The government of Bashar Assad appears to be confounding many observers with its recent recovery of key territory and the gradual consolidation of its grip on power with the help of its regional allies, Iran and Russia.

Meanwhile, the militant jihadist group Daesh, otherwise known as Islamic State (IS), has long capsized any democratic hope in the country and has terrifyingly emerged as the key national security threat in every capital of the free world.

In the past few days, the latest in a long line of initiatives designed to put an end to the ugly metastasis of the war has culminated in UN Resolution 2254 that calls for the initiation of a road map to bolster a viable inter-Syrian peace process.

But the repeated insistence by some of the major powers that Bashar Assad be compelled to step down as a prerequisite to finding a transitional solution in the war-torn country should in fact be seen as the most dangerous insistence that can be enunciated in the prevailing climate.

This is firstly due to learning from precedence.

Against the backdrop of the sort of chaos we’ve now plunged the likes of Iraq and Libya into, intervention in another Middle Eastern country in order to force its incumbent ruler to stand down clearly flies in the face of common sense and experience. The thought of another sweeping military victory that turns into an indeterminate, onerous campaign filled with both military and political debacles – can never be the right one.

The second reason has to do with the chances of actually establishing some kind of inter-communal peace in what is now a dangerously divided nation. If President Assad were duly deposed in the midst of what’s become a nasty sectarian struggle for power backed by opposing regional countries, how exactly would this bring closure to the conflict? The answer is that it wouldn’t.

The likely outcome would be an escalating three-way bloodbath between those loyal to Assad and those who’ve assumed power.

Daesh, al-Qaida affiliates and other Sunni militants will fight for the spoils of war while simultaneously eliminating or driving from the country Assad’s Alawite clan and other minorities – ending with vicious infighting among them.

The third reason has to do with the near-impossible complexity of bringing about the proposed post-Assad era without resort to Western boots on the ground. Namely, the formation of a renewed and united consortium of armed groups out of the so-called moderate opposition – funded, trained and armed preponderantly by the US.

But would it not be a tall order to expect this force to fulfill a patriotic duty in garroting the regime’s henchmen, then occupy Damascus, defeat Daesh and its affiliates, bring Hezbollah to a standstill and all the while go about convincing a vengeful and broken nation that they intend to introduce an inclusive democracy that unites them? Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it’s about prioritizing the strongest avenues in the fight to defeat the most cancerous organ in the entire Syrian fiasco: The world of Daesh.

Right now, this group and its nihilistic- jihadi outlook controls nearly 50% of the country, not to mention large segments of neighboring Iraq.

It has callously manifested itself with gruesome beheadings, bombings, burnings, lynchings and rapes in addition to the horrific events we witnessed in Paris and Sharm el-Sheikh.

They clearly present the most imminent danger to both Syria and the world at large. In order to be buffered against this jihadi onslaught and make inroads into cutting their supply of financial, military and logistical support, it’s imperative we allow the prevailing government in Syria, complete with its armed forces, to secure its own borders and lead the fight against Daesh.

The government, weakened as it may be, remains the sovereign government of the country and controls most of the country’s population centers that, with the continued financial and military assistance of Russia and Iran, afford the best chance of another Middle Eastern vacuum being denied to the extremists.

Whatever interim settlement can be reached to bring peace and stability to the country in accordance with the wishes of its people, it must not include – despite the deep willingness on the part of many – President Assad being forced to step down.

To do so would invite an even greater spectacle of violence, ethnic cleansing and radicalization of the young both in the region and abroad, which ultimately will promote instability and hate to unimaginable proportions.

Bashar Assad is not sui generis. The world must not be told that he should go. He must stay... at least for now.

The author is a PhD candidate in Political Science at the Institute of Middle Eastern Studies at King’s College, London.

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